This year marked the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln. Considered by many to be America’s greatest president, he will forever be remembered for his mastery of the English language and his ability to manage the job of president while maintaining his common touch.
While he will always be remembered as the great Republican president, it should not be forgotten that he would not have been the president that he was if not for his many years in the practice of law. A trial lawyer of the highest order, he handled thousands of legal cases ranging from divorce and criminal law to collections and personal injury prior to giving up his practice in order to devote his full attention to politics.
While Abraham Lincoln never had a problem as a Republican trial lawyer, it is becoming more and more evident today that lawyers and Republicans mix like oil and water. As a lawyer, I believe in the judicial system, the protections afforded individuals and businesses in the courts and the idea of the courtroom acting as the equalizing factor between the weak and the strong. As a Republican, I believe in individual freedoms, the ability to contract, free markets and the idea of self-governance. However, in Oklahoma today, I am becoming painfully aware of the disconnect between the values described above and the values of this Republican Party.
I’m only aware of one industry or profession currently facing legislation pending in the Oklahoma Legislature that would place an arbitrary price cap on their product. That’s attorneys. At a time in which the party mantra is deregulation and less government intrusion, Republicans, through House Bill 1602, want to interject their political will into every law office in the state of Oklahoma. And why are Republicans offering HB 1602 this year? Is it in an effort to force the governor to make a decision between that bill and HB 1603, the comprehensive tort reform bill?
I remember a Republican Party in Oklahoma not long ago that stood for values such as free markets, the sanctity of the Constitution, and the freedom to contract. Yet, the leadership in the Oklahoma House and Senate is dead set on ensuring that the freedom to contract, free enterprise and constitutional protections don’t apply to the practice of law. Why? Because the politics of beating up lawyers gets you elected “¦ policy and values be damned.
I’ll admit that lawyer bashing may get you a few votes. However, what does a candidate profit if he gains the office yet forfeits his soul? I’m curious as to what President Lincoln would think about the efforts of this Republican Legislature to so openly embrace the politics of attacking the practice of law. What would he say to the lawyers in the Legislature that are betraying their very profession in the interest of political expediency?
I would like to think Mr. Lincoln would caution us all ” Realtors, financial advisors, insurance adjusters, energy executives, bankers or anyone earning fees based on performance ” that when the tides of political expediency change course, they may be next when it comes to legislative efforts to control prices. This debate affects each and every person on a private sector payroll because the harsh reality is, any of you may be next. However, you just might not have a lawyer there to help you when that time comes.
Smith is an attorney living in Oklahoma City.